People are protesting Pikachu’s new name in Hong Kong, and here’s why

Over the past few days, you may have heard stories about Hongkongers protesting against the renaming of Pikachu, a beloved character from the Pokémon franchise. Sounds kind of ridiculous, right?

Around 20 people took to the streets earlier this week to protest against the Pokémon Company’s decision to scrap Cantonese names of multiple characters, and even the franchise itself, which had been used for two decades.

The new Pokémon Sun and Pokémon Moon games, which are due to be released this year, are going to be made available in traditional and simplified Chinese for the very first time – but both versions will use translations based on Mandarin speech.

In protest, irate fans marched from Chater Garden to the Japanese Consulate in Central on Monday morning, carrying banners of Pikachu’s furrowed brow which read, “Protect Hong Kong-translated names”, HKFP reports.

Some tore up sheets of paper which bore Pokémon and Pikachu’s new names, albeit while wearing slightly sheepish expressions on their faces. 

They were also planning on personally handing a letter to the Japanese Consul General, but, *spoiler alert*, they got stopped by security.

Pikachu, the most famous character of the franchise, used to be called 比卡超 (Bei-kaa-chiu) in Hong Kong, but will now be known as 皮卡丘, which sounds like Pei-kaa-jau in Cantonese. 

While some may roll their eyes and dismiss the protest as an example of people taking their petty grievances to the streets, the erosion of Cantonese’s importance is a touchy subject in Hong Kong.

Despite Mandarin being the official language of mainland China, Cantonese is the predominant dialect in Hong Kong, with Cantonese speakers accounting for 89.5 percent of the population, according to government statistics

However, a survey conducted by the Neo Democrats party recently revealed that fewer than 40 percent of Hong Kong primary schools conduct Chinese lessons in Cantonese, instead choosing to teach Chinese in Mandarin.

In February, 10,000 complaints were made to the Communications Authority after TVB launched a new channel broadcast entirely in Mandarin with simplified Chinese subtitles.

The topic of “mainlandisation” encroaching on Cantonese was also explored in the hit movie “Ten Years”, which comprised five short films about what life could be like in Hong Kong after 10 years of growing influence from China. One of the short films, “Dialect”, depicted the struggles of a Cantonese-speaking taxi driver who loses work due to a regulation that requires cabbies to be fluent in Mandarin.

In summation, Lonely Media’s deputy editor Sing Leung told HKFP that, by going ahead with the name changes, Nintendo (which publishes Pokémon games) is trampling on the culture of a city where Pokémon is part of an entire generation’s “collective memory”. And at least a few thousand people agree with him – in March, an online petition to have Nintendo change the Chinese names back got 6,000 signatures.


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